First off: this isn’t a review. More and more I find myself lacking the proper critical lenses to analyze a film free from my personal preferences, much less in a timely manner. I tend to visit the theater very infrequently, and only when I’m almost assured of what I’m going to see. The bottom line is that this is little more than a recommendation, so take from it accordingly.

- clears throat, assumes epic stance

Looking back on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it’s interesting to see where the focus of each film lies. Batman Begins was undeniably a film about Batman, both in and out of the cowl, running from his rage and facing the fear that festered inside him since the murder of his parents. The Dark Knight, by contrast, was a story about Gotham, encompassing not just Batman and his circle of accomplices, but also focusing just as heavily on the city’s political arena, interior of Wayne Enterprises, media presence, law enforcement strata, mob hierarchy, and even a cadre of Bat-imposters.

Now we arrive at The Dark Knight Rises, the last film of the trilogy. The focus has once more shifted, this time to illuminate Bruce Wayne. The story is less concerned with Batman as a character than with the Dark Knight as an entity, and from start to finish it feels more as though we’re watching Bruce both in and out of the cowl. There’s very little playboy to contrast the brooding crime fighter, and vice versa. What we’re actually watching for roughly half the movie is a character very different from any previous incarnation. The downside to that is it leaves you feeling as though you’re not really watching a full-on Batman movie, but the benefit, I found, was in how it gained a truly tangible sense of emotional weight.

Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t quite, erm, rise to the same level as its immediate predecessor. The narrative is murky and unsteady throughout, there are a few more characters than the story can comfortably manage, and there’s a moment at the end that drives an entire story point into head-scratching territory. There’s just something about it that doesn’t feel as self-assured and methodical as its predecessors, despite it very deftly combining material from “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land”. To go into greater detail would be to spoil things, especially for those of you maybe not so invested in this trilogy to have spent your wee morning hours at the premiere, but still having avoided trailers, TV spots, and other coverage at all costs.

This doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily enjoy it, because I certainly did. And yet what I, and others, noticed was how enjoyable it was in the thick of it, but how particular things didn’t stand up to scrutiny afterward. As I mentioned, the source material is very well blended together, and yet it seems to have come out missing something. It’s extremely difficult to put a finger on any one or two things. Still having only seen it once, I’m left with the impression the parts work better than the whole and ambition may have gotten the better of those involved. A second viewing stands the chance of rectifying that.

But enough with all the vague conjecture. Let’s make like a stormtrooper under Obi-Wan’s influence and move along.

The worst thing you can do is sit your bum in the theater and expect this to top The Dark Knight, or expect Bane to outshine the Joker. Because that didn’t happen. That’s nothing to do with one actor being better than the other, or one role being better written than the other. We’re talking about the Joker, Batman’s ultimate nemesis, the most popular character from his rogues’ gallery, and arguably the most popular comic book villain of all time. In no other circumstance will you find Bane’s character outpacing the Joker’s character, so to expect that in The Dark Knight Rises would be setting yourself up for multiple degrees of disappointment.

But that doesn’t sink the movie. Oh, no. There’s much to love therein.

Every actor with a line to utter puts their A-game onscreen, and the focus on Bruce rather than Batman brings an added level of gravitas to the film (…I said that already, didn’t I…). Michael Caine especially has two scenes that may or may not have wet my eyes (speculative, cannot be proven). Acting-wise, Christian Bale is given even more range to cover, and I think he actually provides his strongest performance (as Batman/Bruce Wayne) on both emotional and physical fronts. Gary Oldman is ever-reliable and enjoyable to see disappear into his role as Gordon, though I didn’t find his character carried as much weight as he did in The Dark Knight. And what can I say about Morgan Freeman? The man always manages to enliven any scene he’s in.

Beyond the returning cast, there were two standouts. Tom Hardy was quite possibly the perfect choice for the character of Bane, and for many reasons. What he brought to Bane was a man that seemed to have been a lifelong philosophy buff who discovered the magic of creatine. Hardy absolutely sells Bane’s articulate nature and fuses that with a believable physicality. He’s not hulking, but he carries himself with a sense of empowered weight—the brutish body language from Bronson and the pinpoint fury from Warrior. You feel his power, and it goes a long way to making his presence so daunting. I was, however, disappointed with one small aspect of his character.

Anne Hathaway was a surprise. She nailed the slinky, sly, opportunistic traits we’ve all seen in past portrayals. She also lends the character of Selina Kyle a layer of vulnerability that could’ve been cheesy and completely forced. But I bought it. It makes her feel less like a crazy cat fetishist and more like a streetwise jewel thief. And she’s not just a treat for the panting men, either. Her physicality ties to her attitude, and watching Hathaway morph from one mode to another gives her character her own sort of dangerous. Her development over the course of the film, and especially her relationship with Batman, really makes her a standout character in the film. You might leave wishing there had been more of her in the movie.

Unfortunately, there’s not too much to say about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, John Blake. He handles the role admirably well, and though he proves pivotal, he doesn’t have much to do aside from portray noble idealism in the face of particular circumstances. It’s a bit of a predictable, thankless role, but he shoulders it without breaking stride. The character may not be as slick or memorable as Arthur from Inception, but that’s not Joe’s fault by a long shot.

I definitely recommend seeing this at least once. As had been promised, it comes to a definitive end, though perhaps not in the way many of you might expect. And don’t be discouraged by its runtime; it takes a little while for things to get moving, but the second half is solid and the third act especially is a pounding thrill ride of an ending.

Christopher Nolan’s work throughout the series has been, to me, exemplary, even to a trend-setting level. I don’t think he ultimately broke the curse of the third superhero movie, but he didn’t really fall prey to it, either. Whatever your preference for Nolan’s Batman, I believe he started something special back in 2005, and you really owe it to yourselves to witness its conclusion.


  1. ThaArmada on 29 July 2012, 02:27 said:

    Nice Review. To add to that, my only problem with this movie was that the trailers set Bane up as a highly intelligent villain who could top batman in a fight and who was going to bring Gotham down in an earthquake. They got me going that Bane could top the Joker because he’d be smarter, stronger, and have an entire army at his disposal. The movie disappointed me a little. It was almost as good as TDK, but lacked the Joker. RIP Heath Ledger.

  2. swenson on 29 July 2012, 15:20 said:

    Your Krispy Kreme picture made me burst out laughing in a room full of people, so thank you very much for that.

    There’s things that could be said about Bane—I still need to think about the revelations made at the very end of the movie—but ultimately I liked his portrayal. Infinitely better than Batman and Robin’s portrayal, at any rate.

    I said this on the forum, but I’ll say it again: I am a huge Catwoman fan. She is one of my favorite comic book characters ever—the only one I like more (sometimes) is Tim Drake. And as an enormous Catwoman fan, I have to say that Anne Hathaway’s performance blew me away. She was perfect. She had the shameless flirting with both Bruce Wayne and Batman, the manipulative attitude, the soft emotional side without being all WEEPY and ANGSTY… it was exactly what I’d hoped for. I was so scared Catwoman would get screwed up as she so often is, and I am so happy she wasn’t.

    I was surprised by John Blake. It may have been nothing special, but ultimately I enjoyed his character, and I think he fit in the story well. It doesn’t hurt that JGL is pretty easy on the eyes. Just sayin’.

    Like you, I feel like I really need to see this movie again. And then again. And then maybe a few more times. It was an excellent movie, offered a definite and ultimately satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy, and was just plain enjoyable.

    (It was very difficult for me to write this comment without putting in any spoilers!)

  3. Rocky on 30 July 2012, 00:33 said:

    Your Krispy Kreme picture made me burst out laughing in a room full of people, so thank you very much for that.

    Oh, you’re quite welcome